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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 29, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Liberty Bank Stadium (30,964) -- Jonesboro, Arkansas. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: WKU 2-0, ASU 2-0. Away Record: WKU 1-1, ASU 0-2. Neutral Record: WKU 0-0, ASU 0-0. Conference Record: WKU 0-0, ASU 0-0. Series Record: Arkansas State leads, 3-2-1.
GAME NOTES: Two teams who expect to be vying for the Sun Belt Conference title meet on Saturday night, as the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers pay a visit to the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
A 35-0 loss to Alabama was expected from a mid-major program, but other than that defeat, Western Kentucky has looked good this season, putting together convincing wins at home against Austin Peay (49-10) and Southern Miss (42-17), as well as on the road in overtime versus Kentucky (32-31). The Hilltoppers are in rare company in the Sun Belt, as only seven teams have started 3-1 since 2001. Their only two losses in the last 11 bouts have come against Alabama and LSU, who were both ranked No. 1 at the time.
Arkansas State has been tested in the early going, suffering road losses to nationally-ranked foes Oregon (57-34) and Nebraska (42-13). The Red Wolves have responded with wins in their home games however, defeating Memphis (33-28) and Alcorn State (56-0). They have won eight consecutive games in Jonesboro dating back to last season.
The Red Wolves lead the all-time series with the Hilltoppers, 3-2-1, which includes a 26-22 win on Oct. 1, 2011 in Bowling Green.
The Western Kentucky offense has been solid in the early going, putting up 30.8 ppg. It has also tallied more than 500 yards twice, including last week against Southern Miss. Before this season, the Hilltoppers had just two 500- yard games the previous four years combined.
They are driven by their dynamic running back duo of Antonio Andrews and Leon Hall, who have combined for nearly 600 yards and six touchdowns. Both rushed for career-highs last week, with Andrews gaining 136 yards and Allen 132. Andrews is also a factor catching the ball out of the backfield with 17 grabs for a team-high 221 yards.
With teams keying on the running backs, Kawaun Jakes has been able to take advantage in the passing game, completing more than 70 percent of his throws (66-of-94) for 806 yards and eight touchdowns.
Jack Doyle leads the club with 19 catches, but has gained fewer than 10 yards per (184 yards). Willie McNeal has just seven grabs, but three have been for touchdowns.
The WKU defense has been vulnerable in giving up points at times (23.2 ppg), but in terms of total defense the unit ranks 13th in the nation, allowing fewer than 280 yards per game.
Xavius Boyd leads the team with 30 tackles and Andrew Jackson has 26 tackles, five a which have come behind the line of scrimmage. Quanterus Smith has three of the team's 11 sacks, and Jonathan Dowling has been a difference-maker in the secondary with four interceptions.
Arkansas State has picked up right where it left off in 2011 when it was the top performing offense in the Sun Belt, as it currently averages 34 ppg and 517.2 ypg through four games.
Ryan Aplin has continued his impressive career as the Red Wolves' signal- caller, amassing 961 yards and seven touchdowns against only one interception. He has a school-record 50 career passing touchdowns.
J.D. McKissic (26 receptions, 249 yards, TD) and Josh Jarboe (21 receptions, 229 yards, two TDs) have seen the highest volume of production in the passing game, with no other player having more than seven catches.
David Oku has emerged as the team's top running back after gaining 328 yards on 65 carries with three touchdowns. Aplin is also a factor in the run game with 152 yards and a score.
The defensive numbers have not been great for ASU (31.8 ppg, 388.8 ypg), but part of the reason for that is because it faced elite offenses at Oregon and Nebraska, who combined to score 99 points in the Red Wolves' two losses.
Nathan Herrold has been effective at linebacker with 37 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, a sack, and two forced fumbles. The unit as a whole has created seven turnovers (two interceptions, five fumble recoveries).
Both teams have been impressive not only this year, but dating back to last season, so it's safe to say that the winner of this matchup should have a huge leg up when it comes to winning the Sun Belt championship. The WKU running backs should be able to exploit ASU's defense, but with a superior quarterback and the home crowd on their side, expect the Red Wolves to outlast the Hilltoppers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas State 34, Western Kentucky 31
09/26 10:34:21 ET
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